More than 20 bakers from throughout greater Portland contributed to cookie boxes sold to benefit Black Lives Matter Portland. (Portland Phoenix/Mo Mehlsak)
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Sam Dunnigan baked for 11 hours straight on a recent Saturday as temperatures soared above 80 degrees in Portland. 

How did she celebrate? By jumping into the ocean at her native Long Island, and by staying out of her kitchen.

“I spent the last couple days catching my breath,” Dunnigan said.

Her inspiration was Bakers Against Racism, a national event started by Paola Velez that encouraged bakers across the country to participate. The only rule, according to the event’s Instagram account, was that a majority of the money raised had to be donated to a charity that supports Black lives – all using social media to fulfill orders.

Sam Dunnigan of Portland, a student and baker at Standard Baking, found herself with time on her hands during the coronavirus pandemic. So she started baking pies and muffins at home to sell for the benefit of local nonprofits. (Courtesy Sam Dunnigan)

More than 20 bakeries and bakers from throughout greater Portland participated, including Chaval, Gross, Tandem, Purple House, and Central Provisions. But independent bakers like Dunnigan pitched in, too.

Dunnigan is an English major at the University of Southern Maine, and would regularly be working at Standard Baking. She initially participated in a similar event after she found extra time on her hands due to the coronavirus pandemic, and baked everything from her home kitchen.

“I think it was a really obvious way for me to give back and raise money,” she said. “I’m always baking things. … It was a no-brainer.”

Dunnigan created a weekly menu, starting the week of June 2 with pies, after sending out a feeler on her Facebook page to see if anyone would be interested. In that first week, she sold 18 pies and raised $600, and was able to split the funds between two nonprofits: Reclaim the Block and the ACLU of Maine. 

After the success of her first week, she decided to take up the challenge again, with cookies and a new nonprofit beneficiary, Portland-based Cultivating Communities.

“I asked for suggested donations,” Dunnigan said. “I didn’t put a cent on anything. Everyone is in a different financial place right now with the pandemic, and I wasn’t going to worry about what people were giving.”

At the beginning of Dunnigan’s weekly baking, she said that the coronavirus pandemic limited the number of ingredients that she could buy. She resorted to having to buy a 25-pound bag of flour from a farm in Skowhegan. 

Pies ready for delivery to online customers cover a table in Sam Dunnigan’s Portland home. (Courtesy Sam Dunnigan)

In her third week, she made 150 muffins and raised $1,150. She was joined that week by another independent Portland baker, Claire Chanis.

Chanis created a menu filled with cookies and pies, and after three days of promotion via Facebook and Instagram, she had 30 orders and raised $900 for The For Us, By Us Fund. 

“Originally, I don’t think they were expecting it as big as it ended up being,” Chanis said about Bakers Against Racism.

She started prepping for the event a week before she had to get the orders out the door. She made peanut butter paprika cookies and chocolate coffee cookies and was able to freeze the dough so she could easily scoop and bake them the morning of delivery. 

“I said (to myself) that there is more that I can do,” Chanis said about the Black Lives Matter movement. “I saw this as a tangible way that I could make a difference and contribute. It felt great.”

Like Dunnigan, and unlike most of the participating bakers, Chanis baked everything in her own kitchen – on one of the hottest days of the early summer.

Many of the brick-and-mortar bakeries contributed to cookie boxes that contained items from several bakeries. Combined, they sold 250 boxes and raised $8,000 for Black Lives Matter Portland.

A message from Sam Dunnigan to her customers urges them to continue to fight racism. (Courtesy Sam Dunnigan)

Briana Holt, the head baker at Tandem, credited Ilma Lopez of Chaval for gathering and organizing the bakers. Holt made 100 dark chocolate fennel cookies for the boxes.

“I don’t know what else is as important as centering Black people and fighting for racial justice,” Holt said. “I know if Portland gets behind (BLM Portland), more Maine people will back them.”

Chanis was originally going to funnel her proceeds to Black Lives Matter Portland, too, but she was told the organization received so many donations that they had to direct proceeds elsewhere.

Holt added that even though Bakers Against Racism serves as an incentive to donate money, she encouraged people to always be researching, making phone calls, and giving back to the community in ways that they can and are feasible for them. 

The Portland members of Bakers Against Racism, meanwhile, are planning to create a sustainable plan to continue collectively giving back their treats.

“It won’t be one and done,” Holt said. 

Freelance writer Emily Duggan lives in Portland.

Muffins by Sam Dunnigan of Portland.

Sam Dunnigan and Claire Chanis said they plan to continue their independent baking efforts through at least the first week of July. To participate, follow them on Instagram @bakedbyclaire and @sam_dunni.